It’s over six months since the RIA Fellows (RIA=Risk Interpretation and Action) met in Wellington, New Zealand, so having some of them attend the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR) conference in Beijing, China, was a great opportunity to meet up in person, continue work on our joint projects, and continue our lively research debates!

The IRDR was one of the sponsors of the RIA Fellows seminar in December 2013, and so their biennial conference was a natural place for us to meet again, especially as we are directly affiliated to the IRDR working group “Risk Interpretation and Action”. The IRDR programme itself is a decade long programme co-sponsored by the International Council for Science (ICSU), the International Social Science Council (ISSC), and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). The 2014 conference, “Integrated Disaster Risk Science: A Tool for Sustainability”, brought together leading experts from both academic and professional specialities to critically discuss disaster risk reduction (DRR), capacity building, sustainable development, the analysis of disasters and in particular the role of science and DRR in the review of the Hyogo Framework for Action, “Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters”, due for review by the UNISDR and the UN World Conference on DRR in Sendai, Japan in 2015, with a view to moving “towards a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction”.

One of the novel aspects for the RIA Fellows during this conference was our role in creating a record of what was discussed during the conference. We acted as note-takers in all the plenary and breakout sessions where we captured highlights, key themes, lessons, challenges, areas of debate and take home messages. Taking this record one step further, we then used these notes to help inform the closing speech to the conference, given by Professor David Johnston (IRDR Science Committee Chair). A simplified thematic analysis of all the notes taken during the conference was conducted to help identify key ‘cross-cutting’ themes that were appearing in the conference across multiple sessions — we wanted to identify the main song notes of the conferencee, and to send people home with these key messages and themes:

  • that there are many different types and adoption of knowledge in DRR assessment, communication, planning, and implementation
  • the role of risk assessment/indexing
  • water, water management and food security: a primary and secondary hazard
  • science, decision-making and communication
  • science, uncertainty , and ethics
  • data and technology
  • the importance of scale: time, geographic, scope
  • government, policy and planning
  • political drivers for science
  • local communities
  • risk reduction, mitigation and planning
  • relocation/reconstruction/recovery
  • national, international networks for DRR
  • education
  • the media

One of the key themes was also the need to “bridge gaps” and how an integrated approach across disciplines, and across research and practice, can help to build those bridges, from the local through to global levels. However, we challenged the audience by asking “What falls under integrated DRR, and what doesn’t?”, and “While we aim to be inter and transdisciplinary, how do we know which communities are not yet involved?” You can read the final slides from the keynote speech here.

Being able to actively participate in the conference, and contribute to the conference’s closing and take home messages was a unique opportunity - a great way to play a more active role in a key international conference where leaders in the field met to discuss key issues in the lead up to the review of the Hyogo Framework for Action. It gave us the opportunity to include our views and perceptions as early career researchers and to explore the conference from a multidisciplinary perspective, especially as the RIA Fellows come from the fields of psychology, geography, political science, anthropology, social sciences, volcanology and beyond!

In the words of the RIA Fellows at the conference:

“A fantastic opportunity to contribute to a truly international conference on DRR. … At the conference a key message for my research was reiterated - the need to involve science in developing land use plans (Senator Loren Legarda). This has now formed the basis of my future research tasks in this area.”

— Wendy Saunders

“The IRDR conference was an exciting discussion across disciplines that shared important experience from different countries around the world. … The complexity, cultural differences and learning experiences that shape how society, decision-makers and scientists perceive, interpret and respond to disaster risk reduction was explored, identifying current opportunities of research.”

— Fabiola S. Sosa-Rodríguez

“I met some authors of key papers in my main interest (decentralization, DRR policy implementation), which was fantastic. I had the opportunity to exchange viewpoints on some debates that directly relate to why DRR policies face trouble at the local level in many countries, and that motivates me to explore new and old (but forgotten) theoretical perspectives on how to improve this key dimension of DRR.”

— Naxhelli Ruiz

After the conference we also had the opportunity to present a case to the open session of the IRDR Science committee meeting to align the RIA Fellows more closely with IRDR activities and to identify opportunities for more direct involvement with IRDR practice. The IRDR Science Committee was very supportive of our requests, including the development of an RIA Early Career Network on the IRDR webpage to highlight our work within the IRDR community (watch this space for more on this in the future!). Following this meeting, the IRDR Science Community immediately took us up on our request for greater involvement: within just a few days after the conference they asked us to collectively prepare a statement on our views on the role of science and technology in the existing Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005-2015, and our opinions on what should feature in the UN’s review of HFA in 2015 (known as HFA2). We were challenged to answer these questions:

  1. What are the key contributions that science has made over the past decade related to understanding and managing disaster risk? What are the gaps that science needs to address?
  2. What are the key priority areas related to disaster risk reduction and resilience building that need to be incorporated into the post-2015 Framework on disaster risk reduction?
  3. How can science and technology support the definition, implementation and monitoring of the post-2015 Framework on disaster risk reduction?

The IRDR is using our recently submitted report on these questions, alongside submissions from other researchers within the IRDR community, to help inform and structure their formal submission as part of the HFA review process — what a fantastic way to have the work and views of the RIA Fellows highlighted on a global scale!